The mantra chosen by the 2011-12 Dinos women's hockey team was "Go To It," a phrase that evokes a no-nonsense style of play and a determined work ethic. Before their final matchup in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport finals, the Dinos head coach Danielle Goyette was proud of what her team had accomplished.
"Did we cause some surprise here? Yeah, I think we came in here an underdog. We showed that if we work as a team and don't count on one or two players, we have a chance to be successful," she said.
To say their performance during the cis championship this past weekend lived up to the coach's words and the team's motto would be an enormous understatement. The Dinos entered their first ever national championship in Edmonton from March 8-11 as a third seed after capturing the Canada West conference for the first time in history. The team continued to break records and captured the top spot in the nation in a stand-out performance last weekend.
The schedule first pitted the Dinos against defending champions and perennial powerhouse the McGill Martlets. With only two regulation losses in the entire regular season and playoffs combined, McGill was a uniquely formidable opponent. The Martlets entered the game armed with four first all stars in the Reseau du Sport Etudiant du Quebec conference, including Olympic gold medalist goaltender Charline Labonte. However, in what would become a familiar theme in this tournament, it was the University of Calgary's netminding that would steal the show. Third-year arts major Amanda Tapp backstopped the Dinos to a 1-0 victory over McGill in the tournament opener. The game's only goal was from forward Sinead Tracey, who deposited a shot from Melissa Zubick in the first period. This meant that a win in their next game against tournament host and familiar foe the University of Alberta would grant them a spot in the gold-medal game.
The Saturday night match between the Pandas and the Dinos was a spirited affair marked by physicality and one of the largest crowds of the tournament. The Pandas went in as the underdogs-- their 4-0 defeat at the hands of McGill meant their gold medal hopes were likely over by the time the puck even dropped against the U of C. The result was a 4-2 win for the Dinos that saw Dinos fourth-year forward Elana Lovell pot two goals and third-year defender Stephanie Ramsay collect player of the game with a goal and two assists. Lovell's two-goal effort was especially stirring, considering it was only her second game back with the Dinos after missing six weeks with a knee injury.
"[Lovell] just came back with two goals tonight," said Goyette. "As a coach, you can't ask for a better showing. Steph [Ramsay] has so much talent . . . she was a leader and tonight, she led by example."
After the game, Zubick, a fourth-year arts major and assistant captain, commented on the tournament so far: "You can't take any team for granted, no matter how you played them in the league. It has been very rough. Every team has had some big hits and each game has been a battle."
Easily one of the scrappiest players in every game she suited up for, Zubick was named a second team conference all-star this season, the third all-star nod of her cis career.
The date was now set for a showdown in the cis finals with the University of Montreal, a tournament surprise entering the championship as the sixth seed. After knocking off first-seeded Wilfrid Laurier and Atlantic University Sport champions the University of Prince Edward Island, the Montreal Carabins were the undisputed Cinderella story of the finals. They packed a serious offensive punch with 10 goals in their first two games in the tournament.
However, there is one facet to the Dinos team that loomed over the proceedings at the Clare Drake arena in Edmonton-- Hayley Wickenheiser. Playing well in the first two games of the tournament, Wickenheiser wasn't single handedly leading her team by any stretch going into the gold-medal match. But when her team needed her most, she came to play in a big way. Simply on another level in the final game, Wickenheiser shrugged off defenders, evaded Carabin attacks and only seemed to gain more passion with every jeer from the Montreal faithful in the crowd. Wickenheiser opened the scoring short-handed at 16:46 of the first period. She scored once more and had two assists for a four-point finale that earned her player of the game and led the Dinos to their first national championship in program history.
The final score of the game was 5-1-- the Dinos keeper Tapp surrendered only three goals throughout the entire tournament. For her efforts, Tapp was given the tournament's mvp award but was quick to spread the praise around in a March 11 news release.
"It's a team game, and I made as many first stops as I could," she said. "The girls in front of me helped me take care of the rest. I'm really proud to win this game with this group of girls."
Zubick was overwhelmed when the clock read zero in the final moments of the tournament.
"Coming into this, our team definitely had the confidence, but it was a battle to get through it. It's unbelievable, tears filled my eyes," said Zubick, who was also quick to heap praise for the tournament's mvp. "[Tapp] was unreal, she has been unreal this whole tournament. She definitely made some big saves to keep us in this game."
Joan Snyder's philanthropic donation and creation of the Joan Snyder Program of Excellence has certainly paid dividends for the women's hockey program at the U of C. Last year, Snyder donated $500,000 to the women's hockey team. In only their third year in the cis, the team not only earned their first championship berth, but won their first title and went without a loss in the tournament. The first three years in the league were not a bad start by anyone's expectations.
The anticipated combination of a strong core group of returning players, experienced coaches and megastar Hayley Wickenheiser will undoubtedly aid in the recruiting of new players to the U of C-- a crucial part of collegiate sport with players carrying a five-year expiration date. Their championship win will go a long way towards securing the Dinos's spot among the top level of Canadian women's university hockey.
The Dinos may have entered the tournament as underdogs, but they left as champions. Their performance sends a clear message to the top tier of cis women's hockey-- the U of C is here to stay.